The Beaver English Department teaches active reading, writing, reflection, and analysis. In our explorations of language and literature, we encourage students to access both their imaginations and their intellects. As they learn, students develop the means of confidently and skillfully expressing their knowledge, observations, and feelings. We believe that engagement with literature leads students to explore human nature, understand multiple perspectives, question the world around them, and appreciate the power and complexity of language.

Ninth grade classes are all offered at the Standard level only, giving students a year to accustom themselves to the demands of the upper school curriculum. In the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades, students may elect to take their English courses at the Honors level during the course selection process. Specific expectations for honors students are outlined below. While the English department is committed to providing every student with a challenging curriculum, the Honors option is open to any student who wishes to engage with the subject at an even more sophisticated, complex, and demanding level. In making their decisions, students should consult their current English teachers and/or the head of the department. Decisions should take into account level of interest as well as ability in English.

In grade 10 through 12, students may elect to take their English course at the honors level by signing a contract. Honors students are expected to be leaders in class discussions, to maintain a high level of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, and to demonstrate a superior level of critical analysis in all written work and on honors-specific prompts on assessments. Earning Honors credit requires that after electing Honors and signing the contract, that the student continues to live up to these expectations.

English 10: American Literature

American Morality (Required)

What does it mean to be American? From the revolution that defined our independence to the very cases contended today in the Supreme Court, in this required course we address all elements of Americanism, the beautiful and the sordid. In doing this, we turn to great American writers whose professed goal it was to define generations of American citizens. We turn to F. Scott Fitzgerald for his perspective on the Roarin’ Twenties in New York City, James Baldwin’s ex-patriot experience abroad in Paris, and other short story selections that will help us begin to answer the question: What does it really mean to be American?

For the second term of American Literature students choose one of the following courses:

American Identity

There are myriad tangible and intangible ways that we define ourselves–from large scale identifiers like nation and religion, to the little things, like choosing what shoes to wear in the morning. The Identity Term looks at identity through varied American lenses–a 15-year-old Native American boy attending a primarily white school in upstate Washington, a family of Dominican immigrants living in New Jersey in the 80’s, and an African-American Floridian woman searching for love in the 1930’s. All of these perspectives help inform our own perspectives of who we are and why we believe the things we do.  

American Journeys

From westward expansion to road trips on spring break, movement and travel have always been quintessential parts of the American experience. In this class, we will read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and meet the Bundrens as they travel in 1920s Mississippi to bury their mother, Addie. We will also examine journeys of immigration through reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Through these journeys, we hope to get a better sense of the role of movement and travel within the American experience and experiment.

English 11: Rhetoric

The View (Required)

This term of 11th grade English (Rhetoric) is required for every junior. Focusing on the power of voice, we will explore and cultivate our voice through creative non-fiction, non-linear storytelling, and poetry. Possible texts include Pulphead, The Empathy Exams, and The White Album.

For the second term of English Rhetoric students choose one of the following courses:

Prose and Politics

This term of 11th grade English (Rhetoric) will explore how storytelling informs politics—the politics of government, race, joy, and all other aspects of the human condition. Possible texts include The Buddha In the Attic, Between the World and Me, 1984, and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles.


This term of 11th grade English (Rhetoric) dives into the idea that change can come through acts of defiance and transformation. We will explore the notion of ‘protest’ in our writing about and analysis of the literature. Possible texts include We the Animals, Othello, and Citizen.

English 9: Telling Stories

Stories teach, challenge, reveal, guide, and inspire us. They push us to explore the human condition through a different lens, and in their most powerful moments, stories help us develop empathy and foster change. In English 9, we use stories to understand our world, and in doing so, we re-invent ourselves from English students to curious, engaged readers and writers. Throughout both trimesters, students read, write, act, create, listen, watch, wonder, debate, and present; they work independently and collaboratively, use their questions as starting points for their work, and incorporate technology to enhance their learning. Ultimately, they connect the characters and themes to the world today. Readings include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, incorporating ancient and contemporary texts. Most days start with independent reading or writing, and grammar and vocabulary are integrated into the week.

 What is Power? (required)

In this trimester course, we question the nature of power. What is the intersection of power and our characters’ gender, age, race, political beliefs, socio-economic reality, or experience? What is the relationship between power and fate? Why do some characters let power compromise their beliefs while others use their power for good?

For the second term of English 9 students choose one of the following courses:

What is Love?

In this trimester course, love — its joys, mysteries, and complications — is at the heart of the stories. As characters wrestle with complicated friendships, technology, first crushes, and deceptive families, they learn about themselves and the world. Ultimately, these characters deepen our understanding of compassion, strength, and the wide-ranging definition of love.

What is Truth?

In this trimester course, we dig into the relationship between knowledge and truth. As our characters face challenges to their beliefs, they examine how their beliefs developed into truth in the first place. Through these characters, we explore what happens when different or alternate truths come into conflict and what is needed to build understanding.

English: African American Literature

This course will anchor itself around Jeffrey Allen Renard’s novel, Rails Under My Back, and explore the black American experience. We will read poems, essays, and excerpts from other writers that include Toni Morrison, Tracy K. Smith, and Ta Nehisi Coates.

English: Ambition, Power, and Disillusion

We will read Invisible Man and Hamlet and examine their protagonists as they battle with societal and familial expectations and their own mindset. How do they exist when other people or forces are against them? And will all this drive them mad or bring them to enlightenment?

English: Contemporary Poetry

The word “poetry” conjures up, for many, the likes of Sappho, Chaucer, Basho and Whitman; not everyone is aware of the present state of the genre. Poetry’s landscape is populated with an incredibly broad range of styles, forms, tones, influences, and subject matters. While Peter Jay Shippy re-imagines the story of Oedipus and Sarah Manguso wonders what music they play in hell, Martin Espada watches a man decapitate parking meters. By reading the poets of today, you will find proof that language, used precisely and thoughtfully, can achieve many different goals. In addition to reading and analyzing samples from the spectrum of contemporary poetry, you will have opportunities to write and workshop your own poems. A willingness to take risks, to read each night, and to take an active role in class discussions is required.

Texts: An assortment of full-length collections from contemporary poets.

English: Dystopian Literature

Drought. Destruction. Economic collapse. Genocide. Fascism. Hurricanes. War. People try to understand these events through various mediums – the news, documentaries, and songs, for example – but dystopian literature gives us a fascinating lens to use. What are these authors saying about life? Government? Free will? Fate? Survival? Beauty and joy? How do we understand different ways of leading people? You will use literature, film, art, and historical and current events to explore these questions, and you will present your ideas in debates, discussions, and creative and analytical writing.

Possible texts: 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, Ender’s Game, Brave New World, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

English: Great Books

When was the last time you were responsible for picking your reading for a course? At the beginning of this class, you will generate a list of books you want to read and then you will campaign for your favorite; after the campaign season ends, you’ll vote and several books will win. We’ll spend the term reading them, examining them for character, theme, structure, style, and message. Is it a Great Book? Ultimately, you will decide whether the books deserve spots on the shelf. You will respond to the reading in various forms of writing, class discussions, projects, and presentations.

Previous winners: 1984, Lolita, Brave New World, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Scarlet Letter, On the Road, The Kite Runner.

English: History and Literature of Boston

In this course, we will investigate the city of Boston, the arc of its development, and the cultures which have clashed and melded to make the city we know. The class will track commonalities connected to the “U.S. East Coast” urban experience, yet also highlight the “uniqueness” of Boston. This co-taught interdisciplinary course will help students understand Boston by looking closely at historical, literary, and artistic experiences and artifacts through a variety of lenses. Units on immigration, politics, and popular culture will direct study of the history and literature of the city.

Possible texts: Caucasia, Danzy Senna; The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins; The Given Day, Dennis Lehane; All Souls, Michael Patrick MacDonald; Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas

English: Literature and Film

Did you like the movie or the book better? Is this a sensible question, or are we being asked to compare unlike genres? In this course we will investigate these two art forms, comparing the narrative possibilities—and limitations—of each. How do these modes of storytelling differ in terms of their effects? What can film achieve that a novel or play cannot, and vice versa? What is lost in the translation of literature into film, and what makes a “good” adaptation? We will read two novels and a play closely, and we will study a film based on each. You will think and write critically about how these stories are told on the printed page and on the screen.

Possible texts: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare; Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

English: Money, Money, Money

What is money’s place in society? Why do most students say that The Great Gatsby inspired them more than any other text? What other stories use money — or the lack thereof — as a central theme? What is the connection between money and power? What is revealed about inequity in society? What messages are sent? reinforced? challenged? What happens when the whole system explodes? In this class you’ll read fiction and non-fiction, write, watch, and listen, and then design a question and research, collaborate, and present your findings.

Possible authors: Fitzgerald, West, Wharton, Wodehouse, Tolstoy, Austen, Williams

English: Science Fiction

In the 1960’s, American literature experienced a formidable boom in science fiction writing. The complicated politics of the time led to “The New Wave,” a literary age of up-and-coming writers addressing America’s more contentious social and political events through the medium of science fiction. Future literary giants like Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Jorge Luis Borges, and William S. Burroughs, among many others, began incorporating science fiction modes and techniques into their novels to further dissect this phenomenon we call existence. With the advent of new film technologies, Hollywood caught on to the wave and began producing America’s first big-budget, full-length science fiction movies. In this course we will read classic novels and short stories from this time period and dissect some of Hollywood’s sci-fi blockbusters like 2001: A Space Odyssey, War of the Worlds, The Matrix and Inception.

Possible texts: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut; Dune by Frank Herber; a litany of science fiction short stories by Asimov, Dick, Vonnegut and others (these are free online texts that will be provided for students).

English: Short Stories

How does something so small pack such a big punch? Such is the nature of a short story. You’ll hone in on story elements and larger messages and practice your hand at your own short story writing.  

Possible texts:  Flash Fiction, Nine Stories, selections from The New Yorker.

English: Songbook

In this course we will examine writing about popular music. Our two main texts will be Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run and Nick Hornby’s Songbook; we will also read selections from various authors like Patti Smith, Lester Bangs, and Albert Murray. We will listen to music and explore how to write and talk about the musical vibe through language. Each student will be required to write numerous short essays on music that will culminate in his/her own SONGBOOK collection.

English: Storytelling

Each of us has an inner world of images, memories, and dreams. This internal landscape holds unlimited possibilities for storytelling. This course will help you explore your personal mythology, discover your own voices, and polish your writing skills. Through a variety of exercises, you will shape memory and imagination into elements of the short story: character, setting, dramatic structure, point of view, and theme. You will workshop your work both in class and by making use of Buzzword, a web-based program that offers a comprehensive editing platform.

Possible texts: stories and essays by Angelou, Boyle, Burnham, Cheever, Cunningham, Fondation, Forché, Miller, Minot, Oppenheimer, Painter, Salinger, Shae, Tolstoy, Updike, and Wolff.

English: The Writings and Readings of Nature and Meditation

The influx of technology and increases in population since the 1980’s have forced us to rethink our place in nature. This course represents a return to nature through the authors who have continued to shape our spiritual connection to the outdoors, such as Wendell Berry, Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Bill McKibben. In this course, we will meditate frequently, take walks through the woods, learn yoga, study Buddist, Taoist and Hindu texts on mindfulness, visit Massachusetts farms, and avoid technology whenever possible. Through this return to nature, we hope you will learn more about yourself and your place and impact on the planet.    

Possible Texts: The Unsettling of America, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, The Tao Te Ching, Wilderness and the American Mind, and other short selections.


Independent Study

Students have the opportunity to explore English, History, Mathematics, Science, Language, or Arts topics of interest under the supervision of a member of the appropriate department. After designing a project with a faculty member, the student presents a formal proposal to the Department Heads for approval. (An Independent Study may not duplicate the content of another course already being offered by the department because of schedule conflicts.) The student works in his or her own time and meets with the specified department member during one scheduled period per week for discussions and planning. Application forms are available from the Upper School Director. Proposals must have been submitted by the regular course selection dates.